Saturday Shorts

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Thomas Voeckler got played yesterday. Shortly after finishing Liège-Bastogne-Liège the Frenchman made his way to Frankfurt airport to fly out to Gabon. Once a French colony, today an oil-rich state on the west coast of Africa with exceptional wildlife, Gabon also has an annual bike race, the Tropicale Amissa Bongo. Named after a member of the Bongo family that rules the nation, the race has a diverse field of teams with Europcar.

Sadly the results are hard to come by. I can’t see them on cyclingnews.com but instead the superb AstanaFans.com has coverage (in Russian) because the Astana development team are riding, and with some success. The photo above by Elena Ryabovol shows the conditions for one of the stage transfers with riders, staff and media loaded into a military transport plane.

Each day the race has been chronicled by L’Equipe. Yesterday Voeckler and team mate Anthony Charteau rode with Moroccan Tarik Chaoufi and Eritrean Okubamariam Tesfom in a breakaway. Chaoufi looked tired and played dead and Voeckler, already a stage winner earlier in the week, was hoping to set up Charteau for the stage win. Only Chaoufi revived in the finishing straight to win the stage. Philippe Le Gars writes things almost got violent but Voeckler got a taste of his own medicine, as he’s infamous for acting at times, feigning fatigue only to spring back. Some Spanish riders call him “Hollywood” but he was outplayed by Chaoufi.

L’Equipe keeps seeing the race via Thomas Voeckler which is understandable but if Voeckler has a story to tell, imagine what the local riders must think, many on simple bikes and without much racing in their legs. It’s been lively so far with a variety of stage winners and the lead has changed several times. I rather like seeing the locals taking part, this event seems to be embraced by the population in a way that the Tour of Qatar or the Tour of Beijing is not.

Wildcards
There have been several announcements on stage races this week. The Dauphiné invited Argos Oil-Shimano, Cofidis, Europcar and Saur-Sojasun to race in June, if this quartet sounds familiar it is because they’ve also got the call up for the Tour de France. Meanwhile the Vuelta has picked Andalucia, Argos Oil-Shimano, Caja Rural and Cofidis. Each of these teams sit in the second tier of pro teams, known as UCI Pro Continental. It’s a tribute to Argos Oil-Shimano who manage to avoid the financial and regulatory burdens of the top tier but get access to almost every race they want.

Tame cards
It’s a lesson Saxo Bank could learn. They are worried about losing their World Tour licence, to drop down to Pro Continental level. But Alberto Contador looks set to rejoin the team and the team could find all sorts of invitations thanks to Contador, it would hardly be “wild” to invite Saxo Bank to the Tour de France. By contrast being World Tour means committing to riding three grand tours and several other races and Saxo Bank, like Europcar, perhaps doesn’t quite seem to have the depth to do this, at least to be sure of wins in all three grand tours.

Tour of Poland
Tour de Pologne
The Tour of Poland might not grab you as a vital race, more so since it has been moved to coincide with the Tour de France this year. But in fact it will matter as it is an alternative stage race for Olympic hopefuls to ride. The route hugs the country’s southern border, for a “national” Tour the race is more the “Tour of the Border”, it never visits the capital and many major cities in Poland. But the country is flat and much of the country’s best riding is to be found on the route picked by the organisers so the choice is logical.

Roche in talks
Cyclingnews had a piece about Nicolas Roche earlier in the week. The Irish rider told Daniel Benson “talk of contracts hasn’t gone through my mind yet“.
Roche and McQuaid
But I think the image above by Italian journalist Enzo Vincenatti shows Roche having a sit down with his agent Andrew McQuaid just last week. It’s quite possible they were chatting about the weather back home in Dublin.

Tour de Romandie
Meanwhile in Switzerland today sees the mountain stage of the Tour de Romandie. The climbs featured are regular but their length and gradient means if riders force the pace the lead group will get very small. Will Bradley Wiggins climb with the best? The time gaps are small and it should make for a lively finish, expect video from 4.15pm Euro time.

Wiggins is leading the overall now and seems confident as this press conference clip shows. It’s in French to start but finishes in English.

IAM team

The turtle of Finance! We are no speculators but true investors who favour a steady and consistent capital appreciation. Slow and steady wins the race. Running does not help, one has to invest in due time!

A new team for 2013 was announced, IAM Cycling. Independent Asset Management is a Swiss financial services company and it will back a new UCI Pro Continental team. The squad wants to retain a Swiss identity and is looking to recruit riders from its home country but has admitted it doesn’t have the budget to get hold of Fabian Cancellara. There will be other nationalities too and it’s run by Serge Beucherie, a number two in command of the Crédit Agricole team.

Goodbye Greenedge
Talking of new sponsors, the Australian team will announce a new title sponsor next week so the Greenedge name is dropped, plus all the clothing and team vehicles will have to be rebranded. The squad’s had a good run already, some teams can take time to get going but they’ve already won a monument thanks to Simon Gerrans. Who is the sponsor? I’ve no idea but there have been whispers of about Jacobs Creek, a wine brand, or Huawei, a Chinese Telecoms company. All will be revealed and it’s good to see sponsors from Switzerland to Australia and beyond.

Giro d’Italia
One week until the Giro d’Italia starts and then it’s three weeks of action. The race is always open and surprises can happen on any stage, more so than the Tour de France. But this year’s edition seems even more open, it is hard to pick a favourite right now. I’ve been looking at the route in more detail with a view to doing a preview and it’s been carefully selected to gradually get harder during the three weeks, to ensure the “fight for pink” is not over too early. That said there are some long transfers along the way. But no military aircraft will be used.

Ankush April 28, 2012 at 10:35 am

It will be very interesting if Huawei is the new sponsor for GreenEdge. That will give other Chinese companies confidence to invest in cycling and a freehand to McQuaid to distribute WorldTour license to more Chinese races.

Brian carless April 28, 2012 at 10:51 am

What can i say saxo is having a hard time with out the psitolero. I would go for scarponi for the win with cuenego for the podium as well. It will be a tuff race

Larry T. April 28, 2012 at 11:11 am

Great to see SOMEONE….anyone…. willing to sponsor pro cycling. With articles like this around http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/26/sports/26iht-summit26.html?_r=1
it should be no surprise that pro cycling is going through tough times. Economic crisis aside, it’s all the sport’s own doing.

Cat4Fodder April 28, 2012 at 9:59 pm

That was a horribly written article in the Times no less. And ignoring a complete lack of ignorance of the Sport itself, the article was choppy, all over the place and lacking in any context or background before dropping the paragraph on cycling. Normally a fan of the Times, but this was Bush-league stuff.

ToTheBillyoh April 29, 2012 at 5:39 am

Good one Larry, pleased to have caught that. Golly the politics of international sport is rough. Cycling as a whipping boy and distraction. Major League Baseball (and others) are far worse, I’d wager.

Toe Strap April 28, 2012 at 11:31 am

Loved the Wiggins interview, thanks for posting it.

ToTheBillyoh April 29, 2012 at 5:49 am

I second that. One of the reasons I love cycle racing is for it’s international flavour. When you have eaten another man’s food, or spoken his language, or raced alongside him it would be damned hard to dislike him. Kudos to Bradley, the more I see him the more I warm to him – especially in French.

Klips April 28, 2012 at 11:41 am

Huawei would be an interesting sponsor for an Australian team, for two reasons:

1) they were going to sponsor a rugby team, but walked away at the last minute at the end of last year (http://www.canberratimes.com.au/sport/union/brumbies-sponsorship-crisis-20111224-1uvo2.html)
2) they were blocked from applying for the National Broadband Network, a massive infrastructure project in Australia (http://www.smh.com.au/business/gillard-defends-huawei-nbn-bar-as-prudent-20120326-1vtyx.html)

While I appreciate that there are other things at play here, it seems a touch odd that they would consider being the name on the pro cycling team of a country who just snubbed them the chance to make $36 Billion.

Anonymous April 28, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Konstantin quelque chose?? ROTFLMAO!! The guy is good enough to deserve a surname, come on ! ;)

Michael April 28, 2012 at 12:41 pm

@TeamMTNQhubeka gives live updates from Gabon during every stage, naturaly focussed their attempts to get Russom into yellow again.

peloton.pl April 28, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Re: Tour de Pologne. In fact in two last editions 1st stage finished in Warsaw in an attempt to cover more land in 7 days. However riders complained a bit about long transfers ( vide Dan Martin in his Procycling column ). I think race management took that on board and condensed this year’s edition around west-south. Sinusoidal terrain should add some attraction.

Photo of Tropicale Amissa Bongo is spot on!!

Alex April 28, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Is it just me or is Wiggins’ French accent much better than his English one?! I guess that’s often the way – you’re more likely to have a ‘proper’ pronunciation of a learnt language than a native one.

I do think it’s bad he can’t remember Siutsou’s name – I know it’s not an easy one but he’s been in the team for 6 months now, come on Brad!

Christian April 28, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Here is an interesting gallery from AG2R’s 2010 participation in Gabon. You can also see their transport by bush-plane and local supporters …

http://www.cyclisme.ag2rlamondiale.fr/coulisses/equipe-en-coulisse.asp?choix_rep=2010_02_gabon

Roadie61 April 28, 2012 at 6:02 pm

@Christian: Thanks for the link. This race in Gabon embodies the spirit of cycling. It’s diverse, the culture is distinctive, the climate is unique, the local support is an integral part of it and the riders get by (well, it seems) on simple bikes and with less training than their Euro counterparts.

Their transport plane reminded me of an experience I had years ago (skydiving); we piled in, sitting on the floor of an old cargo plane and prayed as we ascended to almost 15,000 ft in altitude.

Beau April 29, 2012 at 1:43 am

And you didn’t pray when you jumped out ;)

Breakaway Artist April 28, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Wiggins’s french is really good!
That is quite a surprise.
Je ne savais pas qu’il parlait français.

Robert Merkel April 28, 2012 at 4:00 pm

If it’s Huawei, the politics are interesting to say the least.

Huawei makes consumer items, but they also make enterprise-level equipment used by telecommunications companies.

The Australian government has started a very large (and expensive) project to provide fibre-optic network connections to most homes in Australia – the “National Broadband Network”.

Huawei has been banned from tendering to supply equipment to build the NBN, and they are not at all happy about it.

They’ve already announced that they’re going to sponsor a team in the national rugby competition – and the team that they’re going to sponsor plays in Canberra, the national capital.

This may be more of the same.

The Inner Ring April 28, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Big if. I’ve just heard the possibility here but we’ll see.

Stepping well away from cycling, the company needs some good publicity; it also has links to the Chinese military and accusation it uses the telecoms infrastructure to spy on others. They’re trying to improve the image. See the board of Huawei Australia, it is like a Canberra retirement club.

Wal April 29, 2012 at 5:40 am

Yeah, the whole spying thing was why they were banned from being involved in the NBN. Not good to have your national communications network built by a foreign company which is linked to spying.

Roadie61 April 29, 2012 at 2:16 am

Yes, Huawei’s politics are quite precarious. Huawei’s attempts to make business inroads in Australia, most especially, is currently on shaky ground. I think it’s necessary to give a (long) snippet of history about Huawei as well as China to best understand why I think Huawei should not be sponsors for the Canberra Raiders and/or GreenEdge Cycling.

“…[Huawei’s] $4 million deal to sponsor rugby union side the ACT Brumbies fell apart at the last moment reportedly because the company had then been told it would not be allocated any part of the NBN.”

“It has since switched its attention to the Raiders. [Canberra] “…Australian officials are also understood to have advised Huawei that Canberra was aware of Chinese cyber attacks.”
(Financial Review, Australia, 24 March, 2012)

Australia’s Gov’t/Attorney-General is unapologetic for its ban against Huawei, citing that they must ensure national security. This issue is now a foremost test of relations between Australia and China, Australia’s biggest trading partner.

IF Huawei succeeds with sponsorship of the Canberra rugby team, I’d be surprised because the Australian government has such a strong stance against their participation with the NBN. At the same time, sources within Huawei have insinuated that there will be a strong retaliation against Australia if the NBN ban is not lifted. If Huawei succeeds in sponsoring GreenEdge, I’d be surprised for the same reason.

As INRNG pointed out, Huawei’s Chief Executive is a former member of the People’s Liberation Army, the military arm of the Communist Party of China. The company has been a high-profile participator in broadband network in the UK, New Zealand and six other countries, though the US and several other markets have concerns about network breaches and espionage.

At the same time a very grave political crisis (embarrassment for the Chinese Communist Party) is presently occurring (biggest since Tiananmen Square 1989). A blind Chinese dissident (civil rights attorney Chen Guangcheng), who exposed forced abortions and sterilizations stemming from China’s one-child policy in 2005, served 4 years in prison and was then confined to his home without legal grounds. Chen and his family have been under continuous surveillance since his release from prison: floodlights, threats, multiple beatings and attacks on his wife.

Chen escaped house arrest and is currently under the protection of US officials through the US Embassy in Beijing. He recorded a video that was broadcast on YouTube, asking China’s Prime Minister (Wen Jiabao) to protect his wife, mother and daughter who are still in the family’s home. He wants the Prime Minister to investigate corruption in Linyi City in Shandong province.
(Source: Washington Post, 26 April, 2012)

“Chen’s case is the most notorious blot on the Communist Party’s heavily stained human rights record…” “China’s export success is rooted in removing economic and political rights from the vast majority of Chinese citizens and sticking them with poor working conditions, ultra-low wages and the peonage that most Chinese workers experience.” (Washington Post, Yang Jianli [founder and president of Initiatives for China. He served a five-year prison term in China, from 2002 to 2007, for attempting to observe labor unrest], 28 April, 2012)

This case will serve as an indicator for the US and its Human Rights image around the world.
BUT, the case comes at a time when the US needs China’s help in various highly-sensitive areas.
It also comes at a critical time for China’s future; Wen Jiabao is making a last-ditch effort to reform China towards democracy, “…just months ahead of what was supposed to be a carefully choreographed handover of power this fall.”

“By escaping, and by perhaps placing himself under the protection of U.S. diplomats in China, Chen has managed to place the spotlight on human rights just as Chinese authorities are reckoning with the fallout from the country’s messiest leadership struggle in decades.”
(Washington Post: By Andrew Higgins and Keith B. Richburg, Published: 27 April, 2012)

We, meaning individuals, nations and the global community must take a strong stance against China for its current and past (atrocious and unconscionable) Human Rights violations. Depending on who takes over power in China next Fall will dictate the future of Human Rights in China. Having the worst HR record on the planet (currently, and for a long time) is not something that should be rewarded, like sponsorships anywhere. It’s time that this issue trumps everything else and it’s time for nations to stand up to China (I know, much easier said than done) and say that we won’t support you unless your government’s policies/practices change.

The Inner Ring April 28, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Team Highroad owner Bob Stapleton had trouble with Siutsou’s name last year too, he couldn’t remember it either. If you want to say it for yourself it is here:
http://www.forvo.com/word/kanstantsin_siutsou

Roadie61 April 28, 2012 at 7:33 pm

@INRNG: Wow. You packed a nice mixed bag of information into today’s “Shorts.”

From the Astana Fans site, this is the GC for the Tropicale Amissa Bongo:

1 Anthony CHARTEAU France EUC 10:13:18
2 Meran RUSSAN Eritrea MTN +8
3 Nikita UMERBEKOV Kazakhstan AS2 +15

The rider who is 8 seconds down to Charteau is from Eritrea, a nation that’s ruled by Ethiopia, as I understand it. I would suspect that athletes from this region have similar genes to the infamous runners from Ethiopia; that being said, these guys likely have (natural) incredible endurance. Even without cutting-edge training and all of the perks that UCI WT teams have, these athletes have a genetic benefit.

As Elton John wrote, “…the clothes do not make the man;” in this case those words make a nice metaphor for these African cyclists. It’d be great for one of their locals to win it:)

Roadie61 April 29, 2012 at 2:21 am

Correction: I think the lyrics above were George Michael’s, not Sir Elton.

Frogboy April 28, 2012 at 10:02 pm

For the francophone among us the site tropicaleamissabongo.com has fairly good, though understandably African-biased, news of the race. A quick overview, if I may translate a bit. Team Europcar has won 3 stages, 2 to Yohan Gene, one to Thomas Voeckler who has a further 2 second places. Anthony Charteau is currently in the leader’s jersey. Some firsts though: Meron Russom, an Erythrean rider on the South African team MTN-Qhubeka wore the yellow jersey for a couple of days, the first time since the creation of the race in 2006 that an African did so; with 2 more victories, Yohan Gene now has the record of most stages won, 5. Despite their equipment’s shortcomings the African riders are giving the French pros a proper fight and Team Europcar is having to seriously work hard to contain the opposition from the teams out of Morocco, Erythrea and MTN-Qhubeka.

Panda April 29, 2012 at 5:23 am

Videos and race results of the Tropicale Amissa Bongo are available on http://www.cyclingfever.com. Unfortunately no video of Thomas Voeckler’s reaction after stage 4 where Chaoufi won!

paul April 28, 2012 at 10:13 pm

Wiggins presents with an abundance of, I don’t know what…Frenchness about him. I like this.

Patrick April 29, 2012 at 11:15 am

Re the Giro, Frank Schleck has just tweeted that he’ll be riding now as a replacement for Fuglslang.

Roadie61 May 1, 2012 at 2:40 am

For those who are interested in the final GC of the “La Tropicale Amissa Bongo (Tabo) 2012 (2.1)” race in Gabon, West Africa, here is the podium:

1. CHARTEAU Anthony (Europcar, France)* 13:47:57
2. RUSSAN Meran (country – Eritrea) 00:00:08
3. JELLOUL Adil (country – Morocco ) 00:00:12

* Charteau has won the last 3 editions of this race, and French riders have won every year from
2007 – 2012. BUT, take note, Meran Russan was only 8 seconds behind Charteau on GC with a team
that rides somewhat simplistic bikes and without the carefully-orchestrated training that Europcar
gets.

And the Moroccan rider was only 4 seconds behind Russan! This is fantastic to compare and contrast the differences between these teams from different continents. Again, “the clothes do not make the man.” Nor does the bike — it’s genetics, pride, guts and a genuine desire to compete at the highest level. Congrats to Charteau, but the real story here is these athletes who show up in Gabon.

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